Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why It Doesn't Matter What You Think About Breastfeeding in Public

A couple weeks ago, an image was shared on social media that caused quite a stir.  The image was of a woman breastfeeding at her college graduation.  Apparently, sharing this image online is akin to kicking kittens and the internet got all riled up like it usually does.  The controversy around breastfeeding in public is not something new and since I now have a child who breastfeeds, I pay close attention to the media coverage of the topic.  I can't say I'm surprised by some of the comments out there regarding breastfeeding since some of those comments I have thought myself over the years.  But something happened when my son was born that altered my feelings on the matter: I gained perspective.  With this perspective I realized that all along it wasn't an issue with breastfeeding itself, but rather an issue with my conception of the age old practice.  In the end, it was a "me" problem, not a "mother" problem and it was on me to fix it.  I was able to do so by doing research on the topic and talking with our lactation consultant.  The information that most people don't know about breastfeeding is vast, and once you do, you completely understand why breastfeeding in public is not only ok to do, but it should be done more and celebrated.

Looking online, and probably even in your friends and family circle, you'll see a number of complaints/concerns that people put out there.  I'm sure there are plenty others, but the following are the ones I was able to come up from seeing over the years, and my response to each.

"It's indecent.  A woman shouldn't show her breasts in public."

Pre-child Scott would have seen a breastfeeding mother who didn't cover as a "boob in the wild!"  Post-childbirth Scott now understands that what I'm seeing is not a woman flaunting her womanly parts in public, but rather a woman providing the absolute best nourishment for her child.  In other countries, a breastfeeding mother wouldn't cause the slightest stir of controversy because she is doing something that is best for her child.  It wouldn't matter if it was done in public or at home because they aren't scared of a little nipple showing while at the mall.  It's not like the mother is running around shoving her breast in your face, she's discreetly feeding her child.  Looking at modern media, you'd think we'd be the laxest country in the world in terms of sex, but, as we all know, that's not true.  We find "sex" in situations where it doesn't exist.  When you see a woman breastfeeding, you aren't witnessing a sexual act.  That mother isn't a sexual deviant and she isn't getting sexual enjoyment from feeding her child, she's just feeding her child.  You're the problem in this situation and you seriously need to reevaluate your life if a woman feeding her child sends you into a lust filled rage or makes your cover your children's eyes for fear of corruption.

 "You should cover up or go to the bathroom."

This sort of goes hand in hand with the previous but since it includes the ludicrous bathroom comment, I'll give it it's own heading.  To get the crazy one out of the question - would you eat in a bathroom?  A baby is consuming a meal when he is breastfeeding and as you probably know, your environment affects your enjoyment of a meal.  Breastfeeding is as natural as breathing and it shouldn't be forced to take place behind closed doors where your virgin eyes can't be bothered to see.  A mother can do as she wishes and if she wants to feed her child at the mall, that is her right.  If she is a little more timid and chooses to sit off to the side while covered, that is also her right.  She can even decide to do it in the bathroom for whatever reason, again, that is her right.

Some babies take to breastfeeding extremely well and will be doing it within the first hour of being born.  Others, like my son, take much longer to learn and even longer to master it.  If you ask my wife, he probably never mastered it and is still in a constant state of learning with pain some days and calm seas the next.  Never assume to know what a mother's breastfeeding journey has been.  By telling a mother to "cover up" or "go to the bathroom" you are effectively telling her you don't support her in this journey.  Imagine how that would feel if it came from a friend or loved one.  My wife tries to cover up sometimes but Jack isn't always cooperative.  He'll thrash and pull the cover off, making a natural process very unnatural.  Leave it to the mom to decide, she knows what is best for her child.

"You should use a bottle while out in public."

Using formula isn't the best option for your child, it's just an option.  A pediatrician once told us that the only benefit to formula is that it's readily available if issues arise in breastfeeding, be it work or problems with the act itself.  By feeding your child breast milk, you are giving a specially formulated concoction that is the absolute best meal your child can consume. Most people agree with this and then say, "Well, pump and use a bottle."  Did you know that breastfeeding works best when the child is on the breast directly?  By "using a bottle" you are messing with nature's foremost way of protecting your child from germs and other nasties in the world.  According to

"Close physical contact with your baby helps your body create antibodies to germs in his environment.  When you breastfeed directly, your body creates antibodies in response to cues from your baby's saliva and other secretions.  After exposed to new germs, your body can make targeting antibodies available to your baby within the next several hours (Chirco 2008) (Cantini 2008).  While a bottle of milk from a previous date will provide your baby with immune factors, it will not contain antibodies to germs he was exposed to today."

"Your child is too old to be breastfeeding."

This is something that is actually quite a common complaint and not dependent upon the "in public" argument.  If you breastfeed for longer than approximately 6 months, it's likely you're going to hear this argument.  People seem to think that as soon as the child begins eating solid foods (usually around 6 mos.) that they should stop breastfeeding.  That is just an inaccurate observation and one that the American Academy of Pediatrics disagrees with.  According to the CDC's website on breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Your argument that the 1 year old at Christmas dinner shouldn't still be breastfeeding is wrong and quite frankly just shows your ignorance on the topic.  Just because you stopped breastfeeding at that age or younger because you felt weird or just because you thought it was time, doesn't mean that every other woman out there feels the same way.  The benefits of breastfeeding continue to exist after the first year of a child's life and telling a woman that she should stop because the child is too old is just wrong.  Unless the woman has a teenager on her breast, just stay out of it.

"I'm rather offended by that."

Yeah, well...


  1. I wish more people (both men and women, because the hate comes from both sides) could learn to be as open minded as you have become. Good job, daddy! So glad to have you in my corner.

  2. are now Posey (+1).

  3. Fantastic post! I've been a big breastfeeding supporter since my wife nursed our first child, who is now 19. I appreciate the honesty of your description of the change of your viewpoint once your baby was born.

    1. Thanks for reading and I really appreciate the comment!